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Amy Berg @bergopolis
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Congratulations! You’ve just been hired onto the writing staff of a television show. A new adventure awaits!
First things first, get your shit together. See your doctor, schedule a teeth cleaning, secure a dog walker, go grocery shopping, fill your fridge with ready-made meals. As of the first week in June, daytime doesn't exist anymore.
But most importantly... gift yourself something. You earned it. This is an accomplishment and deserves to be rewarded. Make sure it’s something you wouldn’t ordinarily buy for yourself so it genuinely feels like gift-worthy.
With every new gig or script assignment, I buy myself a little something. If it’s at all related to the new job, it doesn’t count. Splurge on a bit o' fun. It might be the boxset of West Wing, a snow cone machine, or that guitar you always wanted to learn to play.
Don’t go buying yourself a new car. Unless of course you’re driving a 1983 Honda Accord that was already ten years old when you inherited it in high school and the rear view mirror broke off and fell into your lap while you were driving to a staffing meeting. For example.
Okay, now you’ve taking care of your shit and rewarded yourself. What next? Get to work. The room starts the day you’re hired. Do your homework. There’s always research that can be done, books or articles to be read, ideas to be generated. Try to hit the ground running.
Don’t decorate your office. Never decorate your office. When you’re the boss is when you decorate your office. More than just bad karma for the show, it’s a too-bold move for someone coming into a new situation.
I remember one time watching helplessly as a writer got fired off a show. On his birthday. Right after we’d had cake. It wasn’t even a Friday. His office was decorated to the nines. Taking down artwork, packing boxes... not a good look for a Tuesday. Don’t tempt fate, people.
Now you’re in a writers room, perhaps for the first time. It’s day one and you’ve got questions. Where should I sit? How do I know when to speak up? Will anyone like me? Why are we already ordering lunch? What if there are no gluten-free options? Fuck, am I *that* guy?
You’re nervous. So is everyone else, even if they’ve been doing this for years. Rare is a room dynamic that doesn’t shift from one season to another. It’s unlikely you’re the only new face in the room. But if you are, you don't need to go out of your way to cozy up. Be yourself.
The most fun dynamic is always on freshly picked up shows where everyone is new to this particular process with these particular people. Everyone is feeling out everyone else and on their best behavior... even if they're faking it. It’s the easiest situation to slide into.
If you’re a staff writer, you may want to sit out of room discussions for a little bit until you get the hang of it. It’s better to be the person who says too little than the one who says too much. Your job, first and foremost, is to listen and learn.
There are a lot of ways to contribute. For example, if something comes up in the room that might require a little bit of research, there’s no harm in looking up stuff when you get home and sending out an email with the information you've uncovered... or pitching it the next day.
As the season goes on, you’ll get more and more comfortable in the room. You'll learn when it's the right time to pitch... and when it's not. And you'll learn all the politics in play. Every room dynamic is different, which is why it’s always good to analyze before you engage.
Check in with the showrunner(s) on occasion to see if there’s anything you could be doing better... or if there's anything else you could be doing to help. If the boss is too busy, check in with another high-level entity in their stead.
Study the scripts as they come out. Go back and read the pilot multiple times. Get a feel for the voice of the show. Compare the showrunner’s rewrite to the writers drafts to see what changed and why. It can only help when it’s your turn at bat.
When you’re rewritten, which is inevitable, don’t get offended. Use it as a learning experience. You need to separate yourself from the material as soon as you hand it in. Not only so you can better rewrite yourself, but so you don’t hate your boss for tossing your favorite bit.
There are going to be times, a lot of them, in which you think your script didn’t improve in the rewrite. “It’s not better it’s just different,” you’ll say. Most of the time you’re going to be wrong. Suck it up.
But sometimes? Yeah, sometimes you’re going to be right. There are folks out there who rewrite just to say they did. For them it’s about ownership. This is their show, their voice, only they can write it. What do you do in that situation? Shrug. Move on. It's the gig.
Don’t take it personal. There are a lot of things that will feel personal, not just on the page but in the room. Sometimes it will be. And it’ll hurt. But you gotta leave that shit at the office or it will eat at you at home.
There are bad people out there. There are super competitive people. There are people who will stab you in the back. I’ve had every bad experience you could possibly imagine, but I’m still here. And you will be, too.
PRO TIP: There is no shame in getting help if you need it. Writer's Guild insurance covers all varieties of therapy, from massage to psychoanalytic.
Deal with difficult people through empathy not spite. There is something within them that’s eating away at their soul, that’s why they act as they do. Be thankful you don’t have their life. Once you shift your attitude towards them, you limit the effect they have on you.
Although you’ll encounter difficult personalities, you’ll meet more good souls than bad. Embrace the good ones. This will be your clan. Your support system. Writers rooms are creative boot camps... you’ll take these experiences and these people with you for the rest of your life.
Good luck, soldiers
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